On the ground- Lessons learned from YNPN start-ups

On the ground- Lessons learned from YNPN start-ups

Maybe you’ve moved from a city with a vibrant YNPN chapter to an area where there is no YNPN presence. Maybe you were bemoaning the lack of networking opportunities for young nonprofit professionals where you live and a Google search lead you to the YNPN website. Whatever the reason, we are delighted that so many talented, energetic young nonprofit professionals around the country have been inspired to establish new YNPN chapters.

YNPN receives several requests a month from individuals wanting to either join a local YNPN chapter or start one. In our conversations with them over the years, we’ve learned a thing or two about what it takes to start a local chapter, and most importantly, what it takes to keep that chapter alive.

We’ve also found that these lessons can be applied broadly to starting any new initiative or movement in your community and we’d like to share some of what we’ve learned. Time, patience, and an unlimited amount of energy and passion are key things you must have in abundance before you begin.

There are many factors to consider when thinking about starting a local YNPN chapter. The biggest of these should be a strong need and desire in the local community for an organization like YNPN. Is there a need for young people in the nonprofit sector to gather to discuss issues that affect their professional lives and the desire to share knowledge, skills, and resources? The path each chapter takes in the YNPN network is different, but all share key benchmarks, struggles, and successes along the way. The overall success of a chapter ultimately lies within the individuals that make up the chapter – their energy, vision, and passion help build the foundation of a strong chapter within YNPN.

Based on our experiences of working with new chapters, here are some key ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ that might prove helpful to those of you considering getting involved in developing a new chapter and for that matter- those of you looking to start up a new initiative, movement or start-up nonprofit!

The Dos:

  • When thinking about starting a chapter, do contact YNPN National at startup@ynpn.org at an early stage of your planning. Not only can we provide you with a guide to starting a new chapter, IT help and ongoing support, we can also let you know if others have already expressed an interest in starting a chapter in that area.
  • Do investigate what resources are currently available in your community. Sometimes this has lead to great partnerships; in other cases it has demonstrated that there really isn’t the need for another organization in that particular area. Individuals have therefore worked to increase the relevance of current offerings, rather than try and develop a ‘rival’ organization.
  • Do spend time reaching out to others prior to reaching out to YNPN. Successful chapters are those who have a strong pool of leaders and no one person can do everything for long! Gather similar energetic people around you who share your passion for providing professional development opportunities for young people.
  • Do have realistic expectations. You won’t have 100s of members in two weeks or an up-and-running robust website on day one! It takes time to grow a network and consistency and persistence really pay off.
  • Start small, with simple, easy to replicate events that begin to establish your standing in your community.
    • Offer one networking opportunity at least once a month/once every quarter in your first year of operation.
    • Be clear on the types of services your chapter will offer. Have a mission, a vision, and a set of action plans ready.
  • Do use the power of your network! With over 30 chapters to bounce ideas off, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. YNPN provides regular professional development webinars and conference calls for chapters, and supports the sharing of best practices in the network. These resources can really help a new chapter thrive.

The Don’ts:

  • Don’t think you have to have everything sorted and fully mapped out before starting. Growing a chapter is an organic process and although it is important to have a vision for the chapter, as members join, often new needs are identified. Be flexible.
  • Don’t forget to think about succession planning right from the start. Probably one of the biggest challenges our chapters face is turnover of leadership. Unexpected life changes or changes in job role, for example, can mean an individual can no longer commit time to the chapter. Unless there is someone ready to take that place, the chapter can quickly die.
  • Don’t underestimate the time and commitment required of working boards. Not only do you need to plan for the future and set strategic objectives, etc; if that networking event is going to be a success, it will require your physical presence too!
    • Spread the work load across the board to avoid burn-out issues.
    • When recruiting new board members, be up front about the amount of time it requires.

Last but not least, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the experience! Developing a chapter can provide you with opportunities you would never get in your day job (for instance, you could learn a new professional skill) and enables you to be part of an ever growing community of emerging leaders. As we’ve learned from working with chapters around the country, starting a nonprofit is difficult but also can be an incredibly rewarding leadership development experience. As a young person, starting your own initiative like a YNPN chapter is a great opportunity to grow and find your place within the nonprofit sector.
Ese Emerhi Chair, Chapters Committee, YNPN National Caroline Bolas, YNPN Consultant

A note about our contributors

Ese Emerhi is a human rights activist and organizer. She is currently a consultant with the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN) of The World Bank where she provides support to GDLN affiliates in fostering global knowledge sharing within the network. She is also the legislative coordinator for Maryland for Amnesty International where she educates local activists on pressing human rights abuses around the world, as well as work closely with Maryland state delegates and Congressmen to push forward progressive legislative bills.

Caroline Bolas is a consultant for the national YNPN organization. She is the President/Senior Consultant: Organizational Management at LEVELheaded, Inc. She is an experienced and enthusiastic consultant and trainer with international expertise in program evaluation, organizational development and designing and delivering innovative management development learning interventions.


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